Ava and Luscious Gardens

By Julie-Anne Graham. Winner of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults 2023

By Decree of Mayor Augustus Quigg –

#00439: The Rule of Meticulous Incineration: Citizens shall scorch exterior spaces each Monday at 07:45hrs precisely

Ava never got bored of watching Pa burn the garden. From the top floor of their rickety house she followed his movements as he dowsed the charred earth with a large canister. The fumes drifted upwards through the open window and caught the back of her throat. In gardens nearby, others stood with matches, waiting.

The landscape below was grey, as far as the eye could see. Ash-grey houses stood on smoke-grey streets, with slate-grey yards. In the crooked alleyways between, children with faces the colour of stone played football with tin cans. In the distance the paperclip factory bellowed out endless smoke from its twelve enormous chimneys, blanketing the sky with soot and dust. Thick cloud hung low over the town. Circling the town was The Great Wall, an impenetrable barricade of concrete and cement that protected the town from the dangers that lay beyond.

It was 7.44am. If she watched the burning, she’d just about get to the schoolhouse for 8am. It was tight, but worth it.

In her cardigan pocket, Kenny shivered. Petrol wasn’t a welcome smell to a dormouse. She curled her hand around him, feeling the hammering of his tiny heart.

‘It’s ok,’ she whispered. ‘You’re safe with me.’

The smell of petrol always made Ava’s heart race. Not because of the fumes, but because soon the grey world would be illuminated by flames of scarlet, of ruby, of crimson. Flames the colour of ladybirds and tangerines and sunsets and everything forbidden. Colour that burned into her retinas, that bloomed in her imagination, long after the flames had died.

Pa said it was dangerous beyond The Wall. But Ava had heard stories of the beauty out there. What would it be like to see a lightning bug at midnight? Or watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Or see a swarm of bumblebees make honeycomb?

The sirens sounded. She held her breath as Pa reached into his pocket and pulled out a matchbox.